Apparently, approximately once a year, as the weather improves, I am legally obligated to injure myself. You may recall last September I took a tumble while trying to organize a writing desk and managed to take some bruises. Very nearly a year later – right at the start of August, thus this delay – I took another tumble, and sprained my pinky finger by stumbling like a loon to desperately reach my flat’s intercom box when someone rang it, waking me from a nap.
Naturally, that made it hard to type while the swelling went down – which it did, but, unfortunately it’s not the only thing to have slowed me down lately. Having had a head cold last month, it feels like I’ve made very, very little progress lately.
Of course, as I recover, I find it’s a case of slowing down to help me speed back up. After being bedridden for a week, then having a follow-up week doing everything with my pinky extended in the fashion of an antique socialite drinking tea, focussing on getting in a few quality hours of work and stopping early has been getting me better results than trying to work through the whole day.
It’s one of those things where it’s important to recognise that you’re in a different place to usual, cognitively and physically, and that you should change things up a little to better match how you’re doing.
Given that I wasn’t doing well, I spent some time watching crime movies for inspiration. Most notable among them, Infernal Affairs (which was remade in Hollywood as The Departed), The Election/Election 2, and Brother. Infernal Affairs and the Election duology are classic Hong Kong movies about the triads, and Brother is Beat Takeshi’s attempt to work with Hollywood – resulting in a multicultural Yakuza movie.
What’s interesting about all three is how they capture a sense of paranoia and moral ambiguity. All three portray a world where trust has risks – which is not something I often see in fiction.
In most stories, trust is how we better ourselves – it’s how we discover strength, grow, form community. In these crime films, trust is how we objectify and exploit each other. It opens us up to betrayal as our criminal fraternities turn on themselves, it forces us into situations where we must act on behalf of someone we trust even though we harm ourselves with these acts.
It is a very, very interesting inversion of social norms – which I think is part of what makes for a good crime movie. It’s not just about breaching the social norms we live with every day, or inverting them – it’s about presenting a parallel set of social norms living alongside our own. A night-time subsociety which, if we inadvertently wander into with our understanding of the daytime world, will absolutely mangle us.
It results in something both delightfully fear inducing, and something which is strangely more true to life. Many of us lionize the concept of trust in our lives, but sadly, trust betrayed is a very common way to be hurt.
This is part of the thinking behind some changes I’m making to Quicker than Blood’s background structure – all the complex little things going on in the background of the story, the subplots, the moments away from the more defined plot structure.
What I hope to achieve, with more moments of questioning trust, complex motivations, and politicking behind the scenes among people far, far from the page, is to bring a deeper complexity to the story without actually changing it.
Which sounds a bit odd, so, let me explain.
In the well-known fairytale, Red Riding Hood goes to grandma’s house because her mother asked her to. This is a relatively simpleturning point in the story.
If we tell the same story, but Red Riding Hood has more options – all valid – at that point, then the story gets more complex without actually changing.
For example, Red Riding Hood is asked to go to grandma’s house by her mother, but her best friend, Blue Biking Bonnet, has invited Red Riding Hood to go to the river to throw stones into the water.
Even though this story still progresses the same way, exactly the same way, the possibility of Red Riding Hood doing something else, the very real possibility of the plot moving in a different direction makes it – in potentia – richer. Red Riding Hood’s inner motivations get to tangle over the extra options. The motives of Blue Biking Bonnet, and even the opinions of Red Riding Hood’s family, or the nature of BBB’s relationship with RRH, all open up questions which don’t need to be answered, but do add to the overall feel and texture of the story.
More options, more questions, make things more complex, but without really changing too much about the plot. That’s my plan.
We’ll see how I do on following through this month – I’m typing a lot better than I was last week this time – and I’ll let you know how things went then.
As ever, thank you for your support and interest, and I hope the month treats you well.
PS #1 – For those unaware, Patreon did something weird with its payment settings which apparently made some banks go ‘What?!’, which has possibly postponed payment to your favourite creators on Patreon. Do take a peek in case this has happened to you.
PS #2 – On the complexity thing. Brief bugbear I have. Y’know how the film Solo attempted to definitively answer all the cool complexity adding questions about Han Solo? For decades we had a vague idea that Han won the Millennium Falcon off Lando Calrissian, but then Solo walks in and attempts to answer every question we had about it.
There are certainly reasons to like Solo as a film, but something I didn’t like was the way it attempted to exhaustively answer absolutely every mystery behind the character – from the Kessel Run to how he met Chewbacca.
The reason I didn’t like that?
Whenever it answered a question, whenever it dealt with one of those complexity adding issues, it usually solved it fairly flatly. It didn’t open up new questions, new mysteries.
As a result of this I have a personal rule where, if I am answering a question about something, I need to recognise I am closing down part of the world I’m writing about – and now I need to open up some more space at the same time.
For example: Edane Estian’s mothers, from Dog Country, are cyclists, keeping their bicycles in Edane’s room after he moves out.
If I tell you that his mothers’ first date was biking together, that closes the door on all the other possibilities for their early relationship. Which means I need to open another door, by saying that despite this love of biking in his moms, Edane does not like bikes.
Again, that opens things up – why? What’s going on there? Why is Edane against two wheels? And if I tell you that Edane had a traumatic experience with bikes when his tail got caught up in the spokes the first time he tried riding one, that closes things back up, no more fun story possibilities to think about and consider there anymore. So, I need to open up new mysteries.
Ideally, for every door shut, open two more.
(Also that’s out of character for Mr. ‘Pain is your friend’ – the reality is that Edane is/was more of a jogger, and when his moms tried to get him into biking by telling him old-timey soldiers used bicycles, it felt a little too much like they were lying about it to try and force him into doing their thing. Even obedient gengineered soldier-children sometimes feel awkward when parents try to get them into their hobbies!)